Rumiana Jeleva, the embattled Bulgarian commissioner-designate, announced her resignation from all political responsibilities on Tuesday (19 January), following accusations of wrongdoing during a parliamentary confirmation hearing last week. A vote on the new college is now scheduled for 9 February.
In a statement, the European Commission announced that Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian World Bank official, had been nominated to replace Jeleva as commissioner-designate for Bulgaria.
“Today, [Commission] President [José Manuel] Barroso took note of Ms. Jeleva’s withdrawal as commissioner-designate,” read a statement released by the president’s office, adding: “He fully respects this personal decision.”
Jeleva also announced her resignation as Bulgarian foreign minister.
It was still unclear whether Georgieva would be attributed the same humanitarian aid and crisis response portfolio that had been attributed to her predecessor, suggesting a wider reshuffle could take place in the Barroso II team.
A vote of the Barroso II Commission will most probably take place on 9 February, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek announced today (19 January). But he did not rule out portfolio changes among “problematic” commissioners.
By backing Jeleva on 15 January, Commission President Barroso put himself on a collision course with the European Parliament’s socialists and liberals, who loudly called for her replacement following a confirmation hearing last week (EURACTIV 15/01/10).
During the hearing, Jeleva failed to counter accusations of conflict of interest and gave disappointing answers on policy issues, showing for example that she did not know where the Gulf of Aden was situated (EURACTIV 13/01/10).
Speaking in Strasbourg, Joseph Daul MEP, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, said he rejected the accusations against Jeleva, which he said were “unfounded”.
“I protest against this way of making politics,” Daul said, adding he was still of the opinion that Jeleva was fit for the job.
József Szájer MEP, who is responsible for overseeing the commissioners’ parliamentary hearings on behalf of the EPP group, added that Jeleva’s “personal integrity” had been restored after the Parliament and Commission legal services had issued favourable opinions regarding her statements of financial interest.
Socialist group chairman Martin Schulz rejected the view that Jeleva was qualified for the job of commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid, pointing to problems which could be created if a person without the necessary qualifications were to deal with responses to such a difficult situation as the earthquake in Haiti.
“I regret the way in which the EPP group tried desperately to save her despite her performance. It was a serious mistake to put political allegiance before basic competence to do the job,” Schulz said.
Parliamentary sources told EURACTIV that Jeleva had already expressed the wish to withdraw in the hours after her hearing on 12 January (EURACTIV 13/01/10). However, she was strongly advised by EPP leaders to stay in the race, the sources added.
Sources in Sofia told EURACTIV that Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had become conscious of the fact that the accusations against Jeleva were harming his party, GERB. According to these sources, Borissov could have replaced her days ago, but again, the strategy of the centre-right Brussels politicians had been to keep Jeleva, who was recently elected EPP vice-president.
Jeleva’s replacement, Kristalina Georgieva, is currently vice-president of the World Bank and has been working there since 1993, first in environmental and then social areas. She has also been the Bank’s representative to Russia, and served as director responsible for the World Bank Sustainable Development Network.
Speaking in Strasbourg, EPP group chairman Joseph Daul MEP appeared to suggest that Jeleva’s departure could imply portfolio changes for other commissioners.
Daul reiterated the view that Olli Rehn, the Finnish commissioner-designate for economic and monetary affairs, and Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes, responsible for the digital agenda (who are both ALDE-affiliated), had not performed well in their hearings.
He also attacked High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton (UK, Labour), for allegedly taking days off over the weekend despite the dramatic situation in Haiti. Regardless of the fact that the hearing of Greek Commissioner-designate Maria Damanaki, a Socialist, was still ongoing, he said he had received signals that her performance was not good.
In Brussels, a Commission spokesperson could not confirm today that Georgieva would have the same portfolio as Jeleva. Should too many changes to portfolios take place, then the hearings procedure would drag on and it would take longer to put the Barroso II team in place, Parliament sources said.
The sources confirmed that Georgieva will be in Strasbourg as soon as Thursday 21 January, to meet for the first time with Commission President Barroso, EPP representatives and the Parliament’s development committee, which would audition her presuming that she keeps the same portfolio as Jeleva.